Monday, February 6, 2017

Driving -- A Milestone in Life

It has been jokingly said that if you play a country song backwards, you get your dog back, your wife back, your truck back, etc. That’s pretty much my life, but in reverse. When I was 16 I got my driver’s license, then I got a car, then I turned 21 and could drink. Now, my life is going into reverse – mostly because of my health. First, I noticed I could no longer even drink one beer without getting woozy. Currently, just a half a can (about 6oz), and I’m ready to sleep. I’ve always enjoyed alcoholic beverages in moderation. I’m not one that “needs” to have a drink. I can go without it for months and not even think of it nor miss it. But now it seems that because of my weakened state and the medications I’m on, it really isn’t wise to drink any alcohol at all. And that saddens me. About once every 3 or 4 months, I enjoyed a nice stout beer, or a Kahlua and Cream, or maybe even a Long Island Iced Tea.

But now comes even a bigger loss – now I’m having to give up driving. I hope I’m not being overly dramatic but I sense just by posting this I am. Today marks a major milestone for me. Today I sold my car – it will be my last car. My decision to finally do this is based on the progression of my cancer and the effects it is having on all my senses. Although at present I still have my driver’s license, it probably won’t be long before some doctor sends notice to the DMV that I am no longer qualified to drive. That was already threatened once about 2 years ago by another doctor when I started having memory issues. Thankfully, after testing it was determined I wasn’t at the outset of Alzheimer’s, but rather just overly tired from sleep apnea. I’ve been driving around 50 years. Over the years I’ve seen folks whose health was an obvious hindrance to their driving safely yet they continued driving. I can understand what an emotionally devastating blow this is to one’s ego, self-determination, and sense of independence. But I didn’t want to be so stubborn that I risked not only my own life but the lives of others on the road.

I realize that I will now become dependent on others for anything I want or need to get done. Just “jumping in the car” to act on some whim is no longer an option. Gone are days of grabbing a coffee at my local cafe; or getting a quick breakfast or lunch at some restaurant; or just going on some day trip to enjoy my hobby of photography. From here on out, if I want to do any of those things, I’ll first need to find a ride. (I’ve become too weak to walk even a few feet without needing to rest, so walking to places is out of the question.)

In talking with youth today, it seems many of them don’t start driving at age 16. I did. I got my “learner’s permit” at 15 and a half years old. I took driver’s education as part of the curriculum offered at my high school in my sophomore year. Even back in the mid 1960’s the Los Angeles Freeway system was an intimidating experience, especially for a new driver. But afterwards, I was driving daily on the freeway system between home and school, a total of 13 miles one way. I also drove myself to my medical appointments at a major Los Angeles hospital. (I had a childhood muscular disease that was active from age 9 until 16 when I asked my dad to please stop the surgeries – they were just maiming me without results.)

I left home when I was 19, first living out of my 1969 Datsun PL510 4-door with my first dog. (Mother wouldn’t allow me to have a dog so I decided to move out.) That Datsun was a “stick shift” as were many of the vehicles I would subsequently own. I drove from the Los Angeles area to a suburb east of San Francisco, some 400+ miles. I had nowhere to live, I just wanted to be where it was greener. The police (city, county and state) stopped me frequently and I got “detained” once for being a loiterer. At one point, the county police told me I had 24 hours to find a place to live, otherwise they’d “escort” me out of the county. I found a place, but continued using my car to carry everything I owned, which wasn’t much. My dog was in the backseat with my guitar. In the trunk were three boxes – one for books (I loved to read), one for food (canned and other non-perishables), and one for clothes.

After a few months, I got a job at a local pharmacy as a stock clerk and delivery driver. Just 3 years later I had married and had upgraded my car. At times when we could only afford a single car, I’d have to settle for an automatic because my wife was too befuddled trying to drive a stick. But as soon as we could afford two cars, I promptly returned to driving a stick. I just loved the control it gave me. Over the years, I drove a series of Mazda “puddle jumpers.” They were economic to drive. But in 2005, after driving sticks for nearly 40 years, my left knee began to hurt from all the stop-n-go commute traffic. So I bought a car with an automatic transmission. And that is the car I’ve just today sold. I won’t miss it. Cars themselves have never been a fascination to me. But the ability to be mobile is something I will miss. I’m sure I will catch myself at times thinking, “Well, I’ll just jump in the car and…” only to realize I can’t.

Then again, I really don’t feel overwhelmingly sorry for myself or the situation. When I reflect on all the youth that, through the decades of my being alive, lost their lives to disease, war, or “accidents,” I am nothing but grateful for the full life that I’ve had. It is actually oddly interesting observing the LP (long play) album of my life play out. But it’s no country/western song. I’m more a jazz enthusiast. (Wink)

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